Dr Paul Freddolino addressing the HammondCare International Dementia Conference on technology and dementia care.
Dr Paul Freddolino addressing the HammondCare International Dementia Conference.

There is a role for governments to increase consumer awareness and access to quality information on technology tools available for people with dementia and their carers, according to a major international review.

Researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) completed a research project for the UK Department of Health reviewing the effectiveness of 130 technologies such as in-home monitoring devices and robotics in the care and support of clients and families.

Presenting the study’s findings at the HammondCare International Dementia Conference in Sydney this month, co-author Professor Paul Freddolino from LSE and Michigan State University said robust evidence was not available to show current technologies were effective and could deliver cost benefits to individuals or governments.

He said many of the studies were small in size and conducted over short timeframes. “More and better data are needed but randomised controlled trials may not be feasible,” he said, as they were time-consuming and expensive to complete. Evaluations were also complicated by the speed of technological development, which could impact the value and timeliness of the findings.

Increasing consumer awareness

In the absence of good quality evidence to support investing in specific technology tools, the report recommended a role for government in other areas such as increasing consumer awareness and access to reliable information, improving broadband coverage and building the knowledge of care staff and professionals.

Professor Freddolino said agreed minimum standards or benchmarks for measuring the effectiveness of technology tools were also required.

“There is a potential role for government to make available lists of tools that have some evidence to support their utilisation, or at least have been shown to offer some promise,” he told Community Care Review.

Governments should also assist older people to gain technological literacy, encourage the involvement of people with dementia and carers in the development of new technologies and support assessments that are consumer-focused, said the report.

According to the study, the most common technologies available for people with dementia and carers were in the areas of memory and safety-related tools in the home.

Research challenge: a catch 22

Professor Freddolino said it was not yet possible to identify technologies that were “solid interventions and tools” for people with dementia or their carers and which should receive government investment.

“We are kind of in a catch-22 situation. We don’t have good evidence and it’s going to be hard to get good evidence, and yet at the same time people are seeking solutions. So we need to figure how to communicate the best information that we have and make sure that people find out about some of the tools that are there even now.”

Read the full report, which was released in April, on the Policy Innovation Research Unit’s website.

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